Following the news netball can resume having reached Stage 4 of the roadmap for return of the community game, England Netball has released guidance for clubs and players wanting to get back out on court.
Friendlies can be played immediately, within certain guidelines, with leagues and competitive games to return in September.
Why do we need modifications to the rules?
In July, the Government announced that team sports could return if governing bodies submitted an action plan to comply with a framework of risk mitigations. As part of this framework, sports were required to analyse the traditional versions of their games and assess the number of instances where players came within 1m, face to face for three seconds or more. These instances represented ‘increased risk’.
Unsurprisingly, due to the nature of netball, match analysis concluded that these type of ‘increased risk’ instances were common in every level of netball and across every position on court. The very nature of the current netball rules mean that players are regularly breaching social distancing with the 3ft mark (0.9m) and the often static nature of the game when the ball is shot multiple times resulting in players being face to face for longer than three seconds. Therefore the ONLY route to return the sport and ensure the safety of the Netball Family through lowering the risk of transmission was to impose modifications.
England Netball submitted a detailed plan to Government, which included analysis of the traditional and modified game, medical guidance and suggested temporary alterations to the game to lower the risk of transmission and allow the sport to achieve an accelerated return.
What are the new rules?
To meet Government guidelines, netball can only be played in line with the following rule modifications:
- 4ft spacing for the start of play – GS and GK are required to start inside their respective goal circles, GA, GD, WA and WD on the transverse line and the centres in the centre third. The modification requires all players to position themselves a minimum of 4ft away from their opposing players and teammates at the start of play. This will be managed by umpires at the start of play.
- 4ft marking – the defending distance has been increased from 3ft to 4ft. Particular attention must be paid in the circle when defending. This will be blown as distance.
- 4ft position of penalised player- penalised players for major infringements are required to position beside the player they infringed but from a distance of 4ft. This will be managed by umpires when an infringement occurs.
- Removal of toss ups – No toss ups are permitted, the team who had the ball directly before the action that caused the toss up to be awarded will retain possession. The umpire will briefly hold time, instruct the ball to be returned to the relevant team and play will be restarted on the umpire’s whistle.
- Removal of idle interactions – Players not engaged in play or who are stood still are required to be positioned 4ft away from another player. This frequently happens on the circle edge, on the transverse line, whilst walking back to centre pass and returning to the team bench at the end of a quarter. Managed by umpires and supported by players and coaches.
Despite the changes, the modified game still looks and feels very much like the version we know and love. Contesting for the ball is very much permitted providing players are involved in the phase of play. Over the coming weeks we’ll be providing hot topic videos and hints and tips on playing, coaching and officiating the modified game.
Activity must take place in groups of no more than 30 (including coaching and officiating roles) with regular breaks for hand and equipment sanitisation. Outdoor venues are strongly recommended (where possible). Activity is only permitted if risk mitigations are in place and netball organisations operate an ‘opt-in’ policy. Off court, normal social distancing applies and common netball behaviours that involve close contact including pre-match team huddles and high fives are no longer permitted. A number of other mitigations will also be introduced including mandatory Test and Trace completion and health screening before and on arrival at activity.
When can we start?
From now players will be able to begin Stage 4a modified netball training as soon as their organisations and netball deliverers have fulfilled all mandatory requirements set out below. Programmes based on traditional rules including Back to Netball, Netball Now, Bee Netball and Para Netball may also resume in line with the modifications. Pathway activity is also able to return. Due to variations to traditional rules, Walking Netball and NETS may only progress to stage 3 of the return to community netball roadmap until further analysis is undertaken.
From 26 September, Stage 4b of the Return to Community Netball Roadmap will be unlocked, at this point leagues and competition will be able to recommence, allowing planning time for league organisations and a vital window for pre-season player conditioning.
We know players are itching to get back on court but ask that you continue to be patient as clubs, leagues and programme providers require time to put the risk mitigation measures in place to protect you. In certain areas a return to training or competition might be delayed until later in the year due to facility access issues. We are working tremendously hard at a national and local level to unlock as many places to play as possible. Please note, in areas where a local lockdown exists, there may be a delay in progressing to stage 4.